The Low-Down On Nutrition: An Easy Guide For Eating Well

Paleo, Atkins, macrobiotics, raw food, superfoods… the list of diet fads and nutrition advice out there keeps growing longer every year. Instead of equipping us with a clear idea on how to stay strong and healthy, this information overload can easily have the opposite effect. We asked The Cusp expert and nutritionist Jacqueline Alwill to cut through the confusion and give us an answer to the seemingly simple question: what should we eat to be healthier?

Every person’s body is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all magic diet. But knowing some basic facts about food can help you build a healthy diet – even if you’re ridiculously busy.

Food is something to be enjoyed, not a reason to feel overwhelmed, so let’s skip that part and get on board with these essential hacks.

A diet is a lifestyle

“Aim to look at your diet as a way of life, not something you go on and off to achieve results,” says Jacqueline. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself back. “The shock factor of going on and off a diet often results in more issues surrounding balance within your body and the way you think,” says Jacqueline. Making changes that work with your lifestyle and your body is the key to making them stick.

Eat real food

If you do nothing else, reduce the amount of processed foods you consume in favour of fresh, real food. Not only is this kinder to the environment (bye, plastic packaging!) but processed foods usually have added ingredients to preserve their shelf life that many of us struggle to pronounce – and if you can’t even read what’s in your food, that’s a clear indicator it’s not nutritionally sound. To make it easy when shopping, keep to the outer aisles at your supermarket.

Pile your plate with plants

“When all else fails go first with plants,” advises Jacqueline. It’s a foolproof method of getting your nutrition on the right track. “No matter what, a good dose of plants will always help your body thrive,” she says. Full of nutrients, fibre and even hydration, there’s no reason not to stack those veggies high.

Jacqueline recommends building your plate in this order: #1 pile on the plants; #2 add quality protein; and #3 pop on some healthy fats.

Jacqueline’s guide for portion sizes is to have “three handfuls of low starch vegetables (like leafy greens, tomatoes, carrot, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower) as the foundations for your main meals, followed by a palm-sized piece of protein and a scoop of healthy fats (such as avocado, nuts, seeds or olive oil)”.

Snack smart

It’s everyone’s favourite pastime! But there’s a smart way to do it. As a general rule, Jacqueline says to “aim for protein-rich snacks and snacks with healthy fats, because they control blood sugar levels and reduce cravings for carbohydrates until your next meal”. Delicious examples include carrots and hummus; green smoothies with plant-based protein; natural yoghurt with berries and LSA; a piece of chicken wrapped in spinach; a handful of raw nuts and seeds; and the ever-reliable boiled egg.

If you live for carbs, it might interest you to know that “carbohydrate-rich, sugary snacks result in highs and lows in energy and can make some people even hungrier at their next meal, resulting in overeating.” Carb snacking can make us hungrier? Cool joke, body. In this scenario, team the carbs with some healthy fats, “to reduce the glycemic load”. Think apple pieces with almond butter, or muesli with natural yoghurt and raw nuts.

So how many snacks a day are we talking? Unless you’re extremely active, “we only really need two snacks a day at most, or the body doesn’t efficiently use fat for fuel because it becomes tuned in to waiting for carbohydrate fuel sources,” says Jacqueline. In other words, eating too many snacks literally trains your body to burn less fat.

Make eating well easy

You now have a clear idea of what to eat, so how can you make sure you follow through? Make a meal plan for the week so you’re not caught out, says Jacqueline. “When there is a plan or strategy in place you can see where you need to go, right? This is true in life, and in the way we eat and move”.

She suggests making it a weekly ritual to carve out time to sit down on a weekend to plan out your meals and exercise in advance, so it’s easier to keep your health on track. Planning is key, especially for the busy bees, because when we’re low on time we often prioritise convenience over nutrition.

But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Meal-kit services are a good solution: you can eat fresh, healthy food without having to deal with grocery shopping. HelloFresh will send you the ingredients for seasonally fresh recipes each week and throw in an extra incentive – they’ve teamed up with Qantas’ wellness program, Qantas Insurance, so you can live your best life by earning Qantas Points for eating.

Learn how to chew

Chewing might seem like a funny thing to remind you to do, but have you paid attention to how quickly you eat? Are you wolfing down bites in a hurry, or mindlessly eating in front of your TV/smartphone? Probably, and it has a big impact on how your body breaks down and absorbs nutrients from food. “Eat mindfully and chew, chew, chew,” says Jacqueline. “We spend so much time rushing about our lives these days, making time to eat is vital”.

Chewing food well breaks it down into easily digestible particles and allows time for the production of saliva, which contains digestive enzymes that continue to break down food within the body. This means less stress on the stomach and small intestine, and your intestines have a way easier time of absorbing nutrients from that spaghetti bolognaise you just smashed. It’d be such a shame if your body wasn’t absorbing the maximum goodness from all the awesome food you’re eating because of something as simple as chewing.

If you’re watching your weight, then it’s great for that too. Your brain takes about 20 minutes to signal to your stomach that you’re full, so chewing properly slows you down and prevents overeating.

Water is bae

We literally cannot survive without water. It’s drummed into our heads at school that we should be aiming for two litres of water a day, but is this still the case? “Two litres is still a good aim,” says Jacqueline. If you’re a person who likes specifics, they are: “30ml H2O per kilo of bodyweight, plus 250ml per 15 minutes of intense exercise”. Those who work up a sweat pretty easily should consider increasing their water intake.

Our cells require water to carry out the processes that help our body run like the advanced piece of technology it is. Plus, being hydrated makes our skin look good. But don’t forget that water is in foods and other drinks too, and that totally counts! “Eating a plant-rich diet – hello stacks of vegetables – will help keep you hydrated too,” says Jacqueline.

Remember it’s not a race

Comparing yourself to someone else’s results can often cause disappointment. “Don’t assume that what worked for your flatmate, brother or colleague will work for you. We are all unique,” explains Jacqueline. “Focus on what you want to achieve with your health and put one foot in front of the other on your path to get there”.

If you are a Qantas Health Insurance or Life Insurance member or Qantas Wellbeing App user, you can access special discounts and can earn Qantas Points when you order any HelloFresh Meal Box. See Qantas Health Insurance for more information.

Sonia was the Founding Editor of The Cusp. You can find her on Instagram @sonnietothetee